Doing Improv When You’re Not Funny

Donna’s Adventure: Taking Improv training – twice!

Why did you feel it was important for you to do this?

  • Had heard that it was useful training for participants in an idea-generating sessions
    • Wanted to learn it myself rather than bring in trainers
    • Had seen trainers come in for one-hour preparation sessions elsewhere
    • Wasn’t sure it had been helpful but not clear if it was the trainers, the participants and/or the structure of the training that were at fault
    • Also heard that it was helpful for personal creativity

What was the risk for you – what worried you about going forward?

  • Embarrassment, looking stupid
    • I am not funny
    • What if I froze

How did you overcome the worry (emotionally)?

  • Decided that it was a professional development experience – something I might not enjoy but should do anyway
  • Gave myself permission to quit if it wasn’t working

How did you physically reduce the risk (as opposed to overcoming it emotionally)?

  • Booked for a 1-week intensive (5 days in a row) so that there wouldn’t be a week between sessions in which fear could build

What did you gain from the experience?

  • A great deal of fun – felt like a holiday week (“A” level)
    • Very physical, not cerebral
    • A lot of laughter all the way through
    • I was always surprised when our five hours was over
    • Mindfulness – learning that you can’t improvise if you’re thinking ahead
    • Brain relaxation – working this way uses different cognitive approaches, less stressful
    • Insight into why a one-hour training exercise before an idea-generating sessions didn’t work – structure!
      • The basics take working through, playing with – revisited day after day
        • They also require working with the variations – to find out why the opposite doesn’t work (e.g., the “yes, and…” versus the “no, but…” or, even more common, the “yes, but….”)
  • A portfolio of approaches if I am to train people for a session
    • Found some exercises that work with my mental functioning better than others
    • Other exercises can be chosen and/or tailored to diverse styles
    • Met some interesting people who I have kept up with years later

What was the actual risk outcome?

Discovered that the basics have nothing to do with being funny, they are literally exercises – they are how performers prepare, not how the improvise

  • Discovered that I am funny when I am not trying to be – so relax and let it happen
  • Learned to stay in the moment in order not to freeze
    • My biggest “freeze” moment came when I had an instructor who was trying to move us into storytelling without teaching us what he meant by storytelling
    • Result – I was trying to think about where the story was going rather than what I was doing right then and there

Was there a downside (it might not be the thing you worried about)?

  • Some exercises are quite physically demanding – particularly when you’re the oldest person in a room full of (mostly) twenty-somethings
  • Some instructors are simply better than others – the less ego, the better (same for pupils)

What should you have done differently?

  • Hind-sight:  learn to laugh at myself, early and a lot

Would you do it again?

  • Yes, I plan to take more courses – often repeats of previous levels

Any regrets?

  • I encouraged a friend to take it with me, at my repeat of basic level, and she hated it
    • Might have been better for her if I had not been there
    • Also instructor was trying to fast-track us into the next level (bragged the end that he was already half way through “B” level at the end of “A”)

Did it inspire any further adventures, accomplished or planned for future?

  • So far, just repeats of improv training
  • Have adapted some exercises to warm-ups for idea-generating sessions (not improve training, just ways to loosen people up)
  • Have discovered some of the exercises serve me well in my on-line brain training regimen

What are the 3 most important pieces of advice you’d give someone else interested in doing this?

  • Assume you will look stupid part of the time but so will everyone else
  • Think carefully about whether to do it with a friend or not – this is a personal decision and it may vary depending on who the friend is
  • Keep up your energy throughout because it’s very physical
    • Lunches, snacks, good night’s sleep, etc.

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